Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Reading, Writing and the Internet

The last few months have been spent in preparations for a few entrance tests. Preparations have predominantly been reading, reading and more reading. Given the obvious part of reading up for tests the other half of the preparations should, also in retrospect, have been a liberal dose of writing-in long hand, the pen and paper variety. The prospect of writing continuously for three hours, ideas brimming one after the other, mentally making a note to include point (a) and then suddenly realising that I am already at point (e) made me wish I had an 'enter' button to add on a few lines of space. At other times while throwing a frantic line for the precise name of a treaty or date of an event, the ease with which one could Google it made me let out a low whimper akin to a dog unsuccessfully searching for a buried bone.

After four years of not having done any serious writing on ruled exam paper, apart from general doodling during official meetings and a couple of notes to potential paramours (neither were too well received), those three hours on two separate occasions, on alternate days were seriously painful. There was a visible depression on the tips of the right thumb and the index finger and it required vigorous twirling and coaxing before any semblance of life returned to the numb digits.

Reading on the other hand is more passive. Well not exactly if you are studying for an exam where it is required of you to read, understand and conceptualise it for later to tackle a question and derive a suitable answer which can lead you to a seat in a particular university. (At least that's the end of my recent bout of preparations.) It has been rather enjoyable given the style of some of the author's who I have been reading. Some are dead (literally too, bless their souls) in their approach to the subject as well as metaphors rendering the books unreadable.

Which leads me to the internet. With its vast all encompassing web, it throws you such a wide variety of voices which makes reading exciting and at the same time enervating. Exciting because of the rich multimedia, the different schools of thought and style, the ability to cross-refer and the beauty of hyper-links and algorithmically generated related and relevant subjects. Suddenly you think, "Oh!I am so enlightened now." There is so much information I have gathered, which is when the enervation sets in. The information glut begins to sap you.

Most times with hyperlinks et al, I have atleast 10 tabs open varying from currently an article on how urban sculptures can clean the air we breathe to the death of publishing. I haven't read them in detail still. I hope to soon as I finish posting this. At the same time Echofon pops Twitter updates from the hundred odd users I follow.

Most of my reading on the net is now highly based on recommendations or links which these users post on my time-line. With selective following it gives me a veritable smorgasbord of all the required reading for the day. In the time I started writing out this post forty tweets have appeared, ten of which have links with what I deem necessary reading. And so the process continues, with many more tabs opened until I end up a nervous wreck battling between a need for the next fix of information and almost drowning in a digital deluge. Until I find a quick fix solution- the 'power off' switch and curl up on bed with a peeling, musty smelling paperback. Or even better an Indrajal comic inherited from my father.

The web has certainly changed the way people read and write and most definitely the way we analyse information. Like contemplating to swap the newspaper for his Twitter stream on the pot. Potty pips apart, it gives a better platform to connect both readers as well as writers. It also gives you complete freedom on what you want to state. Feedback comes almost instantaneously. And the best part- its in the public domain, making the net easily the most democratising factor in today's society. Technology and the net empowers people. It also gives a renewed coat of strength to Francis Bacon's signature- "Scientia potentia est"- "For also knowledge itself is power".

P.S.- Continuing on the hyperlinked reading style that most above average internet users have adopted, I forgot to mention about the Google Reader. Half day of neglect and the stuff you think has to be read, clogs the whole system up. Return from a holiday sans the internet and more than the pending inbox (now that I am unemployed it doesn't affect me much)the 'Unread' list on Reader gives me the jitters. The immense pleasure derived from marking unread to read is something else as Nitin Pai explains here. In case where the reading runs in lengths unfathomable for my level of reading interest at that moment I just Read It Later, whenever I find the time and the interest. With the continuously dropping attention spans most times its-Never.

P.P.S.-On a slightly related note, I just don't seem to not stop hyper-linking up. Here is Robert Fisk on the death of 'deep reading' and the political power-media nexus.

Image Credit- Peter Steiner via The New Yorker.